Wednesday, 22 June 2011

New Professionals Conference 2011: a conference virgin-virgin speaks

My middle name is Grace, and not Calamity, but I started the day on a calamitous note. My train to Manchester was late, the walk from the station to the conference venue was far more than the twenty minutes my Mancunian friend claimed, and I arrived flustered and stressed. I cannot overstate the importance of spending the night in a hotel beforehand if you have anything more than an hour-long commute, unless you're one of those annoying types who finds everything always goes smoothly.

This was my first conference, and my first time presenting a workshop (alongside the brilliant Simon Barron). As ex-CILIP president Biddy Fisher informed me, I was, “a conference virgin-virgin!” I am, by nature, a very anxious person. I also believe that fear is only conquered by silencing that voice in your head that says I can’t, and throwing yourself in at the deep end. So, I threw myself in, and ended up having an engaging, exhausting and exhilarating day.

Please be warned: this is a long post. I wanted to give an in-depth account of the day for those who couldn't attend. If you'd rather just have a quick list of links to presentations and online links to those who attended and presented, go here and look at Samantha's list:


First to present in the morning was Helen Murphy, formally launching CPD23. This claimed to ‘supercharge’ my professional development. I’m cynical of such grand, overarching schemes, so I was delighted to see that Helen’s attitudes to professional development were incredibly similar to my attitudes towards activism: do it because you want to do it, do it to level the playing field, and do it to benefit ourselves, our jobs, and our profession. From the moment she said, “it’s not just about doing continual professional development because we think it’s something we ought to do,” I was fully on board.

CPD23 consists of twenty three things participants will learn and then reflect on, encompassing technical skills, interpersonal skills, and everything in between. Based on a framework used at Cambridge University, it was designed to circumvent the barriers people face when continuing their professional development (lack of opportunity, lack of time, lack of confidence, isolation and cost) through being self-paced, supportive, inclusive and free. Quite rightly, in my opinion, the team behind CPD23 had modified the original framework to ensure it was relevant and current to the LIS sector.

I loved the emphasis Helen placed on face-to-face networking. She urged us to network and ‘find our Watson’, whose skills would contrast with and complement ours. In a conference that had ‘as I Tweeted…’ as something as a catchphrase, it was lovely to be reminded that nothing beats sitting it down and sharing your failures and successes over a nice cup of tea. If I wasn’t already on board with CPD23, Helen’s passion and enthusiasm would have been more than enough to convince me, and she certainly didn’t need to hard-sell the programme. Over 400 of us have signed up, and I can’t wait to have fun playing around with new tools and technologies and meeting plenty of interesting LIS folk in all sectors.

You can view the slides from Helen's presentation here.


Next was Rachel Bickley. Inspired by the misconceptions she’d heard at a recent SCONUL conference she attended, she presented the results of research she’d carried out on what more established professionals thought of new professionals, and called for us to establish a dialogue with each other.

The good news is that forty three percent of her respondents had nothing but positive things to say about us, and we are particularly employable for our skills, future potential, willingness to learn and enthusiasm. However, the bad news is that we are perceived as having poor practical skills, poor time-management and organisational skills, and library qualifications have left us with significant knowledge gaps. She also asked respondents who were responsible for recruitment why they wouldn’t employ new professionals. One reason was experience (which is where gaining experience through voluntary work or activism can help us) but the others were that we were too-self focused. Essentially, a rookie mistake is to stress what the institution will do for our careers rather than what we can bring to the role. Another point was that, “we can afford to be picky.” The salient point was that the onus is on us to prove we meet the person specification through our transferable skills and to continue being enthusiastic and willing because this is what gives us an edge. Through doing this, even though they can afford to be picky, we can ensure they pick us! After all, none of her respondents said they wouldn’t employ someone without professional experience.

The second strand of Rachel’s paper was focused on building a dialogue between new and established professionals. Rachel made the excellent point that we must not get too caught up in our own networks. Through doing this, we might give some established professionals the perception that we’re cliquey and exclusive, which is off-putting to professionals at all levels. Michael Cook made a fantastic post on this which I agree with immensely. We might appear cliquey, but really we’re remaining in our comfort zone. The solution is to break away from this. Rachel felt a great way to do this was to just jump in and interact with people at all levels, and talk about anything and everything, be it work or discussing your hobbies and interests with colleagues in the staff-room. She urged established professionals to interact with us through similar means, and attend face-to-face meet-ups such as those arranged by LISNPN. It's worth mentioning this has sparked a bit of a cliquegate, however only one of her thirty five respondents actually mentioned cliques, so please let's do further research before we agonise too much.

I really enjoyed learning about Rachel’s research, and found twenty minutes didn’t even begin to cover its usefulness and implications for professionals at all stages of their careers. Her research has sparked a fair bit of debate, including a forum post at LISNPN.

Rachel's slides are available here:


The last paper of the morning was presented by Sam Wiggins and Laura Williams, who attempted to conceptualise and define what a ‘professional’ was. I find it a nebulous term myself, so I was interested to hear what they had to say on the matter. Sam and Laura are students at Sheffield University, though both had worked in libraries prior to this. Like me, Laura felt that if you feel you’re a professional, you are a professional. Sam, on the other hand, felt it was defined by experience and skill set. To try to define what a professional was, they surveyed people who defined themselves a professional.

Quite predictably, the results showed there was no consensus. Respondents felt that it was the level of responsibility you had in your role which defined you as a professional, although the actual job title had little influence. I’d agree with this: my two jobs both have the official title of ‘customer service assistant’. In one of them, I mainly shelve and retrieve stock. In the other, I supervise eight members of staff and spend the majority of my time doing enquiry work! Interestingly, a third of respondents didn’t feel that having a CILIP-accredited qualification was vital to being a professional.

One of their respondents produced a great quote: ‘Our skills and experience don’t make us special; it’s our ethics and conduct that should make us stand out’.

Sam and Laura’s conclusion was that conceptions varied between the sectors: public sector professionals emphasised experience, specialist networking, and academic qualification. However, they were all linked, and the main factor was attitude! Afterwards, I’m still inclined to agree with Laura: if you think you’re a professional, you are one. I thought their methodology was great, because they acknowledged that the research drew from their own pre-conceptions and didn’t reduce their findings to a cut-and-dry ‘twenty percent of people think a professional is x’. They made me want to dig up my undergraduate notes on phenomenology! It seems so obvious once it’s been said, but as a recent LIS graduate, I am fully aware that many people working in similar roles don’t think they are new professionals!


After lunch and doing my second workshop with Simon, it was time for some much-needed caffeine and the afternoon papers.


Ka-Ming Pang and Joseph Norwood are LIS students in Brighton. Their presentation focused on the (very admirable) attempts they’d made to get their course mates engaged in activism. Their slides were brilliant, complete with doodles by Joseph, and really caused us to sit up and pay attention. I’ve previously blogged about trying to persuade students on my course to be active and so was pleasantly surprised to see two thirds of their course mates were involved in activism. I’d love to know what they’ve done, and what they felt was ‘activism’.

Part of their activism involved teaching course mates how to use social networking to engage with each other, and with the wider profession. Their experience was that people will only use tools and be active when they feel like it, so ‘interventions’ should be done just before the point of need. As an example, invite someone from CILIP to advertise an event happening in the next few weeks. I thought this was a great point, because we’re often told about things at the beginning of courses (or indeed, jobs) and if they aren’t immediately useful or relevant, we can forget them. They encouraged us to ‘be like an octopus’ because nobody communicates using the same tools. This is also a good point: as much as we’d like to believe everyone is on Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn/Blogger/etc, no one medium can reach everybody.

One thing that concerned me was that when Ka-Ming and Joseph asked their course mates what they thought of CILIP, they commented that they didn’t feel CILIP was politically active enough. From my work with Voices of the Library, I’m well aware of the work they do and how active they are. Obviously, more political activism and involvement is a fantastic thing, but I think the issue here is that people aren’t following CILIP closely, or don’t have access to publications like Update. Perhaps CILIP need to find new (and free) ways of letting us all know what they’re up to, although the @CILIPInfo Twitter feed is incredibly informative. They called on CILIP to engage with students specifically. In the panel questions, it was mentioned CILIP could produce leaflets and posters for the purpose of recruiting students, which I felt was a great idea. After all, if they impress us at the beginning of our careers, they’ll have us hooked for life.

I felt that Ka-Ming and Joseph’s activism was a really good example of how activism can start from something as simple as organising social events for students and getting CILIP to visit for a talk, and really hope next year’s lot at Brighton continue and build on their accomplishments. As with Sam and Laura’s presentation, real care was given to explain the limitations of the methodology, part of why having presentations from current or recent students at NPC was so enjoyable.


The penultimate presentation was from Megan Wiley, who was discussing how to develop and promote your profession in a careers information role. I initially thought her presentation wouldn’t be at all relevant: I’m a librarian, and I work in a library. Indeed, it wasn’t directly relevant. However, it was utterly interesting, and Megan’s experiences in promoting and developing her role would transfer to people in any sector. Indeed, it startled me how similar her job in careers information was to that of a liaison librarian!

Megan’s main point was that we needed to promote ourselves, and the best way to do this is through letting colleagues know what she actually did. Quite rightly, she urged us not to do this through a step-by-step list of duties, but to do this in more meaningful ways. Several of the methods she mentioned included writing a ‘day in the life’ article for colleagues, asking the person next to her what they did, copying colleagues in to replies she sent containing research, and giving people refreshers on things she used that they were unaware of such as the Library Management System.

Along similar lines to Sam and Laura’s paper, she mentioned that quite a few of her colleagues didn’t see CILIP as relevant, because they didn’t feel they were information professionals. While she saw the value of belonging to multiple professional organisations, many of her colleagues were put off joining CILIP, predominantly due to the cost. She felt that advocating what we do can encourage colleagues to become more active in professional organisations, and urged us not to become hung up on our job titles: we might not be librarians, or work in a library, but we’re still working with information and applying the same ethics and code of conduct.

It was a composed and engaging presentation from what could have come across as quite dry in the wrong hands. I came away thinking Megan was a fantastic advocate, and a great example of how small steps can have a far-reaching impact. It also made me consider a careers information role, so she really did do her job!


Last, but certainly not least, were Katie Birkwood and Naomi Herbert. Quite honestly, co-presenting can frequently appear a little stilted and scripted. Katie and Naomi were former colleagues, and had such an easy rapport with each other, showing little touches of informality which kept the presentation light while still managing to get their point across. I’m quite tempted to corner them and ask them how they prepared and planned this presentation, because they were brilliant throughout. They would certainly refute any stereotypes people had about Cambridge librarians sitting quietly in lofty ivory towers.

Their presentation was focused on how special collections outreach can help you, your career, and your library. It did exactly that! Drawing on practical experiences, they showed that we simply can’t hide the uniqueness of our building and collections from the public. Naomi’s project involved using Hocus Pocus Junior, the first illustrated book in the English language devoted to magic and conjuring, to create an exercise in which schoolchildren would create their own book of magic, including a demonstration from a real live magician. Katie was working on the Hoyle Project, which was funded by the National Lottery. One of the conditions of this funding was that they needed to use the collection for outreach, so Katie decided that building an astrolabe would be a fantastic way to use the collection to educate families about astrology. Katie even put instructions online, to ensure her outreach project had a lasting legacy long after the last split pin was used...

Katie and Naomi both explained how easy it was for us to use special collections for outreach. Funding could come from your institution, voluntary bodies, or even through requesting participants make a nominal donation to cover the library’s costs. They stressed not to go it alone, and that through asking for help from friends and colleagues, it needn’t be as daunting as you think. A point I also liked was that you didn’t have to be an expert, and that by asking around you would probably find, “you do have a friend who’s an expert on something.” They also gave an excellent run-down of the practicalities including how much their outreach activities cost, how long they took to plan, and the vast number of considerations to make, ranging from accessibility to buildings and car-parking to trying to accommodate thirty school children liable to need the toilet at once!

Honestly, I don’t think there’s going to be much scope in either of my roles to use the library’s special collections for outreach activities, but if I had the opportunity to do so in future, I would be confident in planning and organising them thanks to this presentation. At the very least, arranging a build-an-astrolabe session strikes me as an excellent and unique idea for a team-building exercise. Katie and Naomi won the award for best paper. I would have given everyone a bottle of champagne if it was up to me, but I felt they were absolutely fantastic and very worthy winners.

You can read Katie and Naomi's slides here:


This won’t be the last of my posts on NPC: I’ve planned to write some tips for those presenting for the first time, as well as a post on whether there is a clique among new professionals as touched upon in Rachel’s paper. However, for now, I’d like to end this post with a thank you: to the organisers for making it happen, especially Emma Illingworth whose positive attitude and boundless enthusiasm ensured Simon and I went into our workshop feeling prepared for what would await, and Simon, who helped me keep calm and carry on. Most importantly, I’d like to thank every single attendee, especially those who contributed so readily during our workshops. It wouldn’t have been the same experience without any of you.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

10 Rules for Stifling Customer Service

I went on a management course this week, and we were taught Kanter's '10 Rules for Stifling Change'. (See: Kanter, R.M. (1985) The Change Masters.) Naturally, this inspired me to come up with a similar list for customer service, specifically customer service in academic libraries. And, in keeping with the original list, it's more than a little facetious.

1. Always promise the Earth. It shows customers you really care. I mean, we can always find a missing book, have your inter-library loan ready within a week, digitise every single article request and order every single book you need for your research.

2. Remember that if you've never dealt with a specific problem before, you're of no help whatsoever. There's no point looking on the Intranet, or asking a colleague what to do. It'll never come up again.

3. Complaints and challenging customers are utterly, utterly annoying. Don't worry. The more you ignore them, the sooner they'll go away.

4. Nobody ever makes mistakes. Errors are clearly the customer's fault. Technology never fails, there's never a problem with communicating new information to staff, and everyone gives out the correct information, one hundred percent of the time.

5. Aggressive customers deserve to have their views belittled and ignored. Because they're angry, we should be far less accommodating to their wants and needs.

6. Decisions impacting upon your customers should always be made by senior management. Why bother consulting front-line staff and users? Who else to better articulate the needs of a cohort than a group of trained professionals who haven't been service users for many years?

7. You don't ever want to give customers the impression you enjoy helping them and like your job, so stay as stoic, stiff, and inflexible as you possibly can.

8. People who are flexible and use their own initiative and judgement are never treated with respect. Be sure to control everything with an iron fist. You've been given the power, so you must use it at every opportunity.

9. There's no point in changing a procedure. If no-one has complained about it before, it clearly can't be improved.

10. As staff, we will always know what's best for our customers, even though our customers are the ones who will use our facilities and resources. Never forget that your customers should be told this frequently, lest they forget our value.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Ten Things I Wish I'd Been Told About the LIS Sector

Exactly what it says on the tin. The Wikiman and other new info pros have no doubt weighed in on this, but here's a fairly succinct list of things I really, really wish I'd been told three years ago, when I informed my largely skeptical colleagues at the DVLA that I was leaving them to become a graduate trainee librarian:
  1. There are no 59 year-old baby boomers who can't wait to give their (well-paid, interesting and relatively secure) jobs to you, at least in the UK and in the two academic libraries I work for. Sorry. You'll need to be more proactive in job-hunting than waiting around for people to retire and/or die.

  2. To channel my inner indie kid and quote Regina Spektor: "People are just people, they shouldn't make you nervous." Yeah, there are a few bad eggs as with any large group, but LIS folk are genuinely one of the nicest groups of people about. Don't ever, ever be scared to express your opinion to anyone at any level of your organisation. The worst they can say is 'no', and having received negative feedback about my reticence, I have concluded that the future of this profession will not belong to the meek and mild.

  3. Scores of talented, brilliant and ambitious people find themselves unemployed for quite some time after their postgraduate courses finish. You may need to take on a paraprofessional post as a shelver or library porter, step sideways, or take a job in a related area such as university administration or database management. The more you narrow your options to one specific area, the harder it is to find something. There is no clearly-defined path for career progression in many LIS posts, and it can be hard to move up through the ranks. Giving my own situation, as a customer service supervisor, I don't have management experience, so I don't meet the job description for many customer service management roles. Frustrating doesn't even begin to cover it.

  4. Following on from this, it's likely your first job (or jobs) will be fixed-term, part-time, away from where you live now, in an area you don't particularly want to live in and will involve working evenings and/or weekends. I work two part-time jobs in two different cities, and work twelve days in a row on alternative weeks. It's not pretty, and I don't intend on it forever, but I'm not alone: one of my colleagues works on weekends with me, is a librarian in an FE college in a different city three days a week, and is studying part-time for a BA in librarianship.

  5. We're not 'one big profession'. See below blog post for details how we don't stick together at times. Law libraries, financial organisations, public libraries and academic libraries all seem to prefer dealing with their own, and it can be tricky to move between sectors. (I've applied to several LIS jobs in the private sector to no avail, yet have been interviewed for almost every academic role I've applied for. What impresses one sector will not necessarily impress the other. The alternative is that I'm rubbish at application forms, but I'm fairly certain my application forms rock.)

  6. You will always have to defend what you do to people. Every time I mention in passing to a customer that I'm finishing up my dissertation, and they ask what in, they always say, "why do you need a Masters degree for that?" People just don't realise what we do, and if you have a job title which isn't straight-up librarian? Good luck explaining until your throat goes hoarse. And if you don't explain? It just perpetuates the myths.

  7. Every single job in a library and information environment will contain routine tasks. There may be some days, or even weeks, where all you do is routine tasks. Case in point: I spend up to three hours on busy days unpacking books from transit boxes. If you can't deal with this? Don't take it on.

  8. Market yourself, whether you like it or not. My Graduate Trainee induction should have included sessions on making the most of Twitter, setting up a blog, networking your behind off, writing memorable conference paper proposals and making small talk with people you want to impress but have very little common ground with. Thankfully, New Professionals Network has much of this for you. I'm somewhat guilty of neglecting Twitter from time to time, but I know people who don't get involved with professional organisations or social networking at all. I'm not saying this will hold you back from a long and fulfilling career, but how successful will you be if you don't know what else is happening in the profession?

  9. You are more awesome than you realise. Until the Turning test is passed, it's us LIS folk who provide the world with the information it needs and will continue to do so. In thirty years or so, you may well be doing a job which doesn't exist yet.

  10. Don't panic, and don't despair. I know plenty of new professionals who have wound up with their ideal jobs almost immediately after finishing their postgraduate courses. There might not be hundreds of applicants. In fact, I was told there were 243 applicants for my current (paraprofessional) post, and forty or so for the last academic librarian job advertised. Face it: someone is going to obtain that job you've been drooling over, and if you plan and prepare your heart out, why can't it be you?

Sunday, 10 April 2011

We're all one profession: why not campaign like one?:

We’re all one profession, aren’t we?

I'm beginning to doubt that, considering some of the remarks I've heard colleagues and MSc coursemates make about public libraries. I've discussed this with Lauren and Magpie Librarian mentions the antipathy of MLS students towards library advocacy in her excellent post.

Who hasn't read articles like this? They're rarely serious -- oh, old librarians with sour faces and pushy parents using the library as babysitter and people using it like a DVD rental shop ha ha, nice one. I want to roll my eyes, but the truth is that many of my colleagues and coursemates have a similar opinion of public libraries. They're just reluctant to admit it to a vociferous library advocate.

Due to this, I thought it'd be helpful to list some of the comments I've received, and my responses. Perhaps they'll help you, or your colleagues, to view public libraries in a more positive light.

1. “I don’t work in a public library. Why should I care?”

"My kids aren't going to university. Why should I care about tuition fees?"

"I don't live in socially rented housing. Why should I care about housing benefit reform?"

"I don't use the local shop because I can drive. Why should I care if it closes?

Oh, how easy it is to only have passion for the things directly affecting us. Unfortunately, if we did, the world would be an even more selfish and unpleasant place.

Aside from the fact that public libraries are vital to their communities, public library staff don't always have a voice. The council prohibits many from campaigning, or displaying petitions inside their libraries. Imagine if ten percent of libraries in your sector were facing the axe, but you couldn’t do or say much about it for fear of reprisals. If you couldn’t use your voice, wouldn’t you want the rest of the profession to speak up for you?

2. “Our course doesn't cover public libraries much, so they can't be important.”

You're right. Our course doesn't. The one exception was a very polemic lecture we had which entailed a guest speaker claiming public library users were universally white, educated and wouldn’t know what deprivation was if it hit them in their faces.

This doesn't mean public libraries aren't important. Read up on Carnegie libraries, public libraries and democratic engagement, public libraries and social exclusion or even recent news articles that show the link between reading and educational attainment. Browse through Public Libraries News. Then, come back to me if you still think it’s acceptable that some Masters courses in Librarianship and Information Science barely cover public libraries.

It's so easy to write about what we know, but why not write about public libraries for an assignment or even your dissertation? Why not mention to the course leader that you'd like public libraries to be covered in greater depth, too?

3. “The University’s Library gives me everything I need.”

At this point, yes, it does. (Or at least it should do.) You’re a student.

However, public libraries are far more than books. In ten years time when you want to trace your family history using the large volume of records which haven’t been digitised, you’re dying to read that out of print book which costs £30 on Amazon second-hand, needing to access the Internet to access council services online when your laptop’s broken or want to find reliable, free sources of information for your child’s school project? University library not looking so great now, is it?

4. “Can’t people just use Amazon or go to a bookshop if they need a place to read?”

See the above paragraph. Public libraries are far more than warehouses of books, even if they don’t have a Starbucks attached. (Though increasingly, many do have cafés…)

Even if people can afford to purchase the information they need, it's not always avalilable for a couple of pounds on Amazon. Are you aware of how much sheet music and scores can cost? What about a subscription to COBRA, Ancestry or British Standards Online? (All of which are free to access via many public libraries.)

5. "I'm too busy to campaign!"

We're all busy. Nobody is expecting you to channel library advocacy into every sliver of spare time you have

One minute? Add a local campaign to Twitter or follow a site like Public Libraries News, giving you an easy way to keep informed with what’s going on in your local area and the UK as a whole.

Two minutes? Sign a petition online, or go to and pledge your support.

Five minutes? Print out some leaflets or fliers and leave them at a local doctor’s surgery, convenience shop, sports hall or community centre. There’s no need to go out of your way – just ask at places you’d visit on your everyday errands.

Ten minutes? Write a letter to your MP, or set up a petition if there isn’t one in your area.

You can do any of these during a tea break, and still have plenty of time to drink your tea.

And, finally, the most crude and the most common:

“My public library smells and is full of homeless people!”

I asked this person when she last visited her local public library. It was in 1994. So many people are quick to say similar things about public libraries, but haven’t actually visited one for many years. Pop down to your local public library; it might surprise you!

Libraries aren’t like bookshops. They’re free, and open to all, and they won’t kick you out for grabbing a pile of books and reading them from when the library opens until when it closes. And, without wanting to play the world’s smallest violin, I was very briefly homeless as a teenager. I was fortunate enough to have friends to stay with, but Reading Central Library would recommend me books and graphic novels I’d like, and provide me with free word processing facilities to complete coursework.

I wasn’t a threat to anyone: books just made life a whole lot better during those really dark days.


If you work in a library or are studying for a library qualification and aren’t willing to support public libraries? Perhaps you won’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

A Day in the Life

I work as a customer service supervisor for the Brotherton Library, Leeds University's Arts and Humanities Library, and also where Special Collections is housed. It's a large and beautiful Library, housed in the Grade II listed Parkinson building, and the round reading room has marble columns and locked cages. Five months working here, and I still pause every time I walk in; I seem unable to escape the 'wow' factor.

It's 11:45, and my manager's at the Health Sciences Library. For the first time, I start the day knowing that I'm responsible for the entire building. Immediately, I put my coat away and see a weekday colleague. She's been drafted in to assist us with exam periods, so my first task is to plan her workload for the day.

The first thing I do is have a quick chat with my colleague, who hasn't worked at my site for over a year. I give her a quick tour of the library, update her on Health and Safety, and introduce her to the team. It feels slightly strange, acting as her first port of call for any problems when I've only been in my job for five months, but she thanks me for doing a good job. After this, I open the safe and unlock the Enquiries area. In ten minutes, I manage to open everything up, send out overdue and recall notices, and clear the holdshelf. Needless to say, I'm quite pleased with myself.

From 1pm until 3pm, I'm solely responsible for the Enquiry Desk. This is, hands down, my favourite aspect of my job. We recently closed the issues and returns desk, so the majority of enquiries really give me something to get stuck in with, especially as the academic librarians, cataloguers and e-resources teams only work on weekdays. It's rather quiet, but I keep myself busy by checking registration forms, removing out-of-date reservations from shelves, and completing reservations paperwork.

Suddenly, everything happens at once, as it always does! There's an unattended child in the computer clusters, a student needs help with Web of Knowledge for her assignment which is due on Monday, five photocopiers have paper jams in them, a retired academic wants to know how she can access electronic resources from home now that she's no longer an active member of staff and a student with an essay due next week wants to know how she can speed up a book which is in processing because the e-Book isn't working and it's critical for her essay. There's also a complaint that the group of people in the Group Study room are so loud that they're audible from the floor above. Behaviour management is something the Library is keen to improve on, so I go downstairs and ask them politely to be a bit quieter. Like the majority of people I speak to, they're utterly apologetic and don't even realise they're inconviencing somebody.

My manager returns at 3pm, and I take a well-deserved lunch break, grabbing a coffee and popping over the road to Tesco to fetch some chocolate chip cookies, which are well-received by my colleagues.

I do a few odd jobs from 4pm until 5pm, ranging from emptying the self-service machines, checking photocopiers, photocopying forms, updating signage, labelling and re-barcoding books, searching for missing books and missing reservations, e-mailing customers regarding Library queries, and filing registration forms.

From 5pm until 6pm, I do some shelving and shelf-tidying. I find shelving (in limited doses) to be relaxing, and after the hustle and bustle of being on the desk, it's nice to clear my head for a while.

I take a short break as I have a meeting with my manager at 6pm. She asks me how I'm adjusting to my new role, and I'm concerned that I've still got so much to learn, but she compliments me and tells me to, "keep on doing more of the same." She's a trained librarian and has been in her role for many years, and it's gratifying to know that she trusts me with the building, as it's a huge responsibility. We discuss training and development, and I'm booked on some internal supervisory skills courses this Spring, which I'm really looking forward to.

My manager asks me how I'm finding time for everything, juggling two part-time jobs, campaigning for Voices for the Library and volunteering at an animal shelter. I'm not quite sure, other than the fact I'm doing so many things I'm passionate about, but I know that I wouldn't have it any other way.

6:45 rolls around. I make the tannoy announcement, lock the cupboards, empty the till, place the keys in the safe, and thank my colleagues for a hard day's work. Naturally, at 6:59, there's a phone call from a student who doesn't realise we close at 7pm. There's always one, so we have to be alert right up until the time the Library closes. The computers are off, and the forms are locked away, but I spend several minutes explaining procedures to her and tell her to pop into the Science and Engineering Library next week.

A few minutes later than anticipated, it's home time. My days always pass so quickly. I hop into my partner's car, pop a CD into the stereo, and look forward to a glass of wine, a good book, and a good night's sleep.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

What I did on my library vacation!

Ah, so. November rolls around and I'm still without a full-time job. Two years ago, I assumed my late twenties would entail moving to a (more) spacious house in a nice bit of Yorkshire countryside, having a colony of cats, and planning my wedding to my long suffering fiancé. Well, I'm living in a flat in Yorkshire's BNP heartland, have two cats who eat more meat than I do, and the wedding date has yet to be set.

To try to combat this career malaise, I've decided to start volunteering. Mindful of my friend Lauren at Voices for the Library's advice that volunteering for public libraries doesn't do much to help their case for keeping their funding, I've devoted my time to the Feminist Archive North, and a local primary school library. I'm off to the latter tomorrow, being thrown in at the deep end with a Harry Potter-related quiz and hopefully some seven year old kids who are eager to learn. Adding that to my weekend gig almost makes me 0.75 FT!

I'm not entirely sure whether this will pay off, but I'll let the non-readers of this blog know. In any case, I'll finish with an inspiring quote that aforementioned Lauren came across and sent to me for a potential article on the gendered nature of librarianship post-20th century:

“To my thinking, a great librarian must have a clear head, a strong hand, and above all, a great heart…and I am inclined to think that most of the men who will achieve this greatness will be women.” — Melvil Dewey

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Use us, or lose us

So. Job options for librarians seem to be more pathetic than a small kitten left out in the rain. My recent experience has shown me that newly-qualified folk seem to be hit the hardest, as well as those struggling to get their first taste of work experience in this wonderful profession. There have been several vacancies in my library, ranging from low-grade paraprofessional posts with a hotchpotch of part-time hours, to high grade middle management posts. Of course, I am happy and willing to take on low-grade posts, but despite having several years' experience in academic libraries and 5/6 of a CILIP-accredited MSc, the competition is still fierce.

I have, naturally, begun to look outside of libraries. I do have lots of transferrable skills, and feel I could adequately do the following jobs:

- Technical author
- Copywriter
- Web designer
- IT trainer
- Graphic designer
- First line technical support
- Cashier
- Customer service manager
- Filing clerk
- Counsellor
- Project manager
- Security guard
- Search Engine Optimiser
- Secretary
- Visual merchandiser

And with a bit more thought, I could multiply that list several times over. Due to this transferability, I suspect many other newly qualified librarians are looking for jobs outside of the profession as well. Yet, libraries are closing. Cuts are happening. This means fewer librarians, and fewer qualified librarians. How can we fight for our future if, well, there aren't any of us? It's a bit of a Catch-22.

The fact I am getting very few interviews indicates to me that people from outside the profession really don't understand what we do, and why we do it so well. (Either that, or I have poor social skills.) And, although I really hate using crude comparisons to make a point, my brother does a job involving only a handful of the roles I've listed above, and his salary would pay for three Chartered librarians at CILIP's minimum recommended rate. We're polymaths, and we're worth our weight in gold.

Note to society: use us, or lose a generation of us.